Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Overcoming 'the voice'

Journey to bottom of earth a study in defeating self-doubt

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At some point during a trip of any degree of difficulty, there's often that moment when you ask yourself "how the hell am I going to finish this?"

That self-doubting voice in your head may start whispering when you simply get tired or sore or hungry. When that happens, it's pretty easy to ignore.

But when you find yourself extremely fatigued, far behind schedule or seriously ill, those little murmurs become a massive symphony of internal screams that have the potential to paralyze you with fear, compounding an already difficult situation.

As a paddler, I've heard that voice after becoming windbound in Quetico Provincial Park for only one day. All that was at stake was missing a float-plane pickup a few kilometres away. The voice was being petty.

As a hiker, I've heard the voice when my backpack started feeling like a sack of bowling balls during a return trip from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There was nothing at stake but my pride. But the voice was screaming anyway.

Over the years, elite athletes and sports psychologists have come up with all sorts of ways to silence that stupid voice. Some of them write motivational tomes in an attempt to impart this wisdom. Mere mortals may then reject that advice, believing that voice may serve an evolutionary purpose for those of us of average fitness and ability.

Personally, I'm not big on motivational anything. I believe hating some part of a difficult self-propelled journey is not just inevitable, but necessary in order to make the rest of existence -- our relatively sedentary city lives -- seem incredibly easy.

Yet it is hard for even a cynic not to be moved by Crossing The Ice, the centrepiece of the touring version of this winter's Banff Mountain Film Festival. The 44-minute documentary, which screens at the Burton Cummings Theatre on Jan. 19 as part of the festival's Winnipeg stop, shows what happens when two thirtysomething Australian dudes put themselves in a situation that amounts to three solid months of listening to the "how the hell am I going to finish this" voice.

In late 2011, James Castrissian and Justin Jones set out to become the first humans to travel from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back without the help of wind, dogs, snowmobiles or any form of assistance.

Like most Australians, the weren't exactly expert skiers. The happy-go-lucky friends, who call themselves Cas and Jonesy, only started training on skis 15 months before the trip. But they were experienced adventurers, having completed a 3,300-kilometre tandem-kayak paddle from Australia to New Zealand in 2008.

So at the height of the Antarctic summer, Cas and Jonesy loaded up a pair of sleds at Hercules Inlet, clicked into their skis and attempted to make a self-propelled, 2,260-click trip to the pole without any food drops or other support.

In a parallel to the first race to the South Pole a century earlier -- when Norway's Roald Amundsen beat the U.K.'s Robert Scott to the bottom of the world -- the two English speakers found out they were in competition with a Norwegian of their own, Aleksander Gamme, who was travelling on his own.

But Gamme didn't turn out to be the main problem. Cas and Jonesy soon ran into bad weather that put them off their intended pace by not just days but weeks. To make matters worse, they were afflicted with maladies that ranged from severely chafed inner thighs to foot and groin infections to severe diarrhea.

It took 62 days for the two men to reach the South Pole. By that point, they had already started rationing their food. On the way back, the calorie-deficit situation gets a lot worse.

Training cameras on themselves the entire way, the two friends don't just question themselves but completely break down, as any sane person would in a similar situation. Overcoming self-doubt becomes as challenging as Antarctica itself.

Like many adventure films, Crossing The Ice offers a mixed message: On one hand, Cas and Jonesy could be seen as foolhardy and irresponsible. But it is rewarding to observe the two pals' ability to shut out that nagging voice and soldier on in the face of an immensely tedious, calorie-draining and potentially lethal journey.

The doc is among 12 to be screened at the Banff Mountain Film Festival's Winnipeg tour stop. Most are under 10 minutes, including Industrial Revolutions, which features the amazing freestyle cycling skills of Scottish trials rider Danny MacAskill. What this guy does on a bike should not be possible.

Banff Mountain Film Festival


-- Burton Cummings Theatre, Saturday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m.

-- Tickets $15 at Alter Ego, Bikes & Beyond, Chirocare, Gord's Cycle & Ski, McNally Robinson, M.E.C., Olympia Cycle & Ski, Tamarack, Vertical Adventures, Wilderness Supply and Woodcock.

-- Online tickets available through the Alpine Club of Canada's Manitoba section at Click on the "Buy Now" button.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 C10

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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